As we all wait for news about e-cigarette regulation from the FDA, we are now learning details of some of their strategies and findings regarding the habits of smoking and e-cigarettes use. At a meeting this February, nicotine researchers headed by Dr. Andrew Hyland, presented preliminary findings from the first 20,000 people to enroll their “PATH” study. The PATH study stands for Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health, and looks to track the tobacco and tobacco related use of 46,000 people over a five-year span. The information gathered from this study will be used as a baseline for how the Food and Drug Administration and National Institutes of Health track how the use of tobacco products, or such alternatives as tobacco-free e-cigarettes, is evolving.
This study will be a guidepost in the FDA’s ongoing attempts to regulate e-cigarettes, something the industry is biting their nails over as they wait for it to happen. The study, while still years from completion, is already giving us a glimpse into the habits of e-cigarette users in today’s world.
And what they are finding is not surprising to most of the people who have come to make vaping a part of their lives. The study suggests that many people use a combinations of tobacco, or tobacco-related products, and more often than not e-cigarettes are part of the mix.
While it is just preliminary findings, the study does bring up some key questions as health officials assess electronic cigarettes. “Are e-cigarettes a step toward a cigarette smoker getting off of cigarettes? Or are e-cigarettes a crutch so they can get nicotine in places and times when they wouldn’t normally be allowed to smoke cigarettes?” asked Dr. Hyland of the Roswell Park Cancer Institute, who was the primary investigator for the PATH study of trends in smoking and tobacco use.
A significant, but still small, fraction of 28 percent of adults and nearly 9 percent of youths reported they currently would use any type of tobacco product, Hyland said. Approximately 40 percent of those current tobacco users are reporting that they are using two or more products. And half of those say e-cigarettes are one of the multiple products they use, Hyland found. In fact, the most common combination of multiple products was cigarettes and e-cigarettes.
Mitch Zeller is the director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products and he believes the early findings showing use of more than one type of tobacco product are compelling and underscore “how popular e-cigarettes have become.”
Popular indeed, with sales expected to top 8 billion dollars this year, it is clear they have gained a significant and loyal following among smokers and ex-smokers. Whether it is a person trying to quit or someone just trying to get their nicotine fix in a place where smoking is difficult, the replacing of cigarettes for e-cigs has been a successful choice for many. And many of those people still smoke cigarettes, albeit at a far less frequent rate.
Critics will say that this study proves that e-cigarettes really don’t help you quit smoking, despite the fact that there are plenty of studies proving otherwise. They will claim that it is a fallacy that e-cigs can help smokers quit, and that all they do is create more nicotine addiction.
The truth is, however, even if all they did was replace cigarettes sometimes that would be enough of a health impact to endorse their use. Not only for the user, but for the general health of those around them, e-cigarettes provide a much safer nicotine delivery method than the smoke and tar that comes with regular cigarettes. There are no cancer causing carcinogens in the vapor and the threat of second -hand is nonexistent. If people are using a combination of e-cigarettes and cigarettes, they are still making a healthier choice by replacing some of their smoking craving with vaping, and this is really hard for the critics to deny. You can say they don’t help people quit smoking, but even if they only allow people the opportunity to just cut back a little their benefit is too large to ignore.
However, it is true that they help people quit; this is proved by numerous studies, most notably a study published by the Society for the Study of Addiction which shows that users have a higher success rate quitting with the aid of e-cigarettes than they do quitting with other nicotine delivery methods or just going cold turkey.
Still that doesn’t help the critics from claiming that all e-cigs do is keep smokers addicted. Worse, they continue to try and act as if they are a gateway to hook new users who eventually try tobacco, despite the fact that an almost miniscule percentage of never smokers have ever tried e-cigarettes.
Still this small percentage prompts much concern regarding teen e-cigarette use. “Is it a passing fancy or something that sticks with them?” Dr. Wilson Compton, deputy director of NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse, questions. Dr. Compton was a recent presenter at the 2015 American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting, where they discussed, among other topics, the potential impact of a general shift away from traditional smoking to vaping. Compton hopes that over the next few years, the new PATH study will help tell whether vaping could be considered a gateway, or if it is, as he suggests, just a passing fancy for first timers.